Excerpt from a Conversation between Michael Schindhelm and Angela Lyn, moderated by Li Zhenhua
Li Zhenhua: Michael, tell us about the film you made for On the Edge of Time. How, where and for what reason did you step into the project of making a film about Angela Lyn.
Michael Schindhelm: I have known Angela for several years. We are almost neighbors and Ticino is not really known for its high density of artists. Sooner or later, you get to know each other. Being a foreigner in Ticino is also a special topic. Actually, there are quite a lot of foreigners living here. Many of them in a rather remote way, because often they have the privilege to live wherever they want to. Way before home office became popular, many people who chose Ticino as a place to live were doing remote work. Some live here, because they have a specific purpose.
Angela and I met five or six years ago for the first time, and we immediately talked about subjects such as perceiving the local landscape, the shift between Switzerland and Italy, between the North and the South, between the mountains and the Mediterranean, the Germanic and the Roman culture, etc. We soon realized that we shared common thoughts and made similar observations, both having lived in Ticino for many years.
I then started a documentary named Outland, a film about migrants in Ticino and its longstanding history relating to migration. Many famous artists from various European countries used Ticino as a refuge during times of war and persecution, in particular during the first half of the 20th century and even before. Bakunin, for example, in the late nineteenth century, hid in Ticino from the police and the authorities. Bakunin was the father of anarchism, a major pillar of the revolutionary movements in many countries in Europe during the second half of the 19th century. Although it is not like this anymore, the spirit of anarchism or anarchy, or rather non-conformism, is still alive here in a way.
During the fifteen years I have been living here, I have met quite a few people with an extraordinary and colorful path in life. I thought to make a film about that and include Angela Lyn because I felt that she represents this spirit in a certain way. That’s what brought us a bit closer over the summer of last year.
In the fall of 2020, Angela shared a project with me that she was about to start at the Villa Arconati on the outskirts of Milan. Villa Arconati is the second largest palazzo in the region, if I’m not mistaken, has a very colorful history. It also represents a certain era of liberty and female power. I found the project interesting and at the end of June last year, we visited Villa Arconati for the first time.
Many things are interesting about this building, but what fascinates me most is its location. It is situated on the outskirts of Milan, the most vibrant metropolitan place in Italy. The area, not far from the site of the World Expo six years ago, is not necessarily known for its beauty. It’s an urban sprawl, quite chaotic and actually pretty ugly.
When you then enter the premises of Villa Arconati, you immediately step into a totally foreign and different world that has something very magical, as if the time had stood still. You see fields, trees, the avenue and, of course, the palazzo itself. It has preserved the beauty of another era. When you then enter the building itself, it looks rather abandoned. The family who owned it for several generations was not able to maintain it and at some point, they left it to the state. It was then taken up by a private foundation. They do a great job in refurbishing it, but you still see the decay. This is also something beautiful, of course, because decay shows history; decay shows traces of human life. Unfortunately, we could not really touch this in the film, because it would have gone too far. However, one could write a script about the history of Europe of the last two centuries just using this Villa. The place is located on the crossroads of European history for the past 200 years. We learned, for example, that at the end of the Second World War, there were fascists hiding on the grounds – perhaps from the allied troops. During the First World War, there was a big explosion in an ammunition factory nearby, where many young women died who had worked in the factory. In fact, this was documented by Ernest Hemingway, who by chance had just arrived in Milan at that time. He travelled to Bollate and later wrote about this explosion in his diaries. There are many crossroads connecting this place with the world, but at the same time, it feels totally abandoned and far away.
I found this extremely interesting. A perfect place for Angela Lyn to make an art exhibition under the title On the Edge of Time. It represents an artistic walk through her life, and at the same time reveals the state of her art today. As we had already talked a lot about her life during the making of Outland, I felt almost like an expert on the subject. So why not continue with a more specific focus on her artistic work. That’s how we arrived at making a film over the past six months. It’s a fifteen-minute story and I have to say that it is a collaborative production, which means that Angela was very much involved in the development of the film as well as my wife Yawen, who did the camerawork, the editing and the soundtrack. In terms of conceptualizing, it was a very intense exchange between Angela and me, based on what she shared about her work and her biography. It is a chapter-structured film. There are several chapters that show the artist Angela Lyn, the person Angela Lyn, and the process of making an art exhibition. Therefore, the film is also a kind of preview of the work and of the art of Angela before the opening of the show in spring 2022.
Li Zhenhua: you talk about the big picture of Europe and Ticino. I would like to know more about the process of how you actually worked with Angela – in particular, how the film was started and how decisions were made.
Michael Schindhelm: Something we should probably both answer. I will just give you short input. My collaboration with Angela started upon invitation. It didn’t take long for us to decide that we want to do this together. As I said earlier, we share quite a few things about our life in Ticino, but also about Angela’s work and the role of the artist in our time. Furthermore, what does it mean to live here on the border between Italy and Switzerland, which is certainly a subject of Angela’s work and also of the show at Villa Arconati. What does it mean being a foreigner, maybe even a stranger, in society.
These things came up very early. I think it was mostly Angela’s idea to write a text as a first catalytic proposal and how to engineer the text into a draft or script for the film. Of course, we had a lot of exchange during that time. The good thing is – and that’s why I like to work with artists or art collectors – that you have so many things to show. In the first place there is the art and the making of art, which is a great feast for your eyes. That’s why it was great to be in Angela’s studio and use her work, to choose representative art pieces, also those from the past with a particularly strong tie to her biography, intellect and thinking. We made a selection of artworks, of major milestones of her as an artist or of her biography. We thought about how to frame this in the context of the show at the Villa Arconati, how to combine the spaces at the Villa with the space in her studio and the intellectual framework around all of this; where to put things, both artwork and the documents of her personal life. It may sound maybe a bit kaleidoscopic. Maybe we started a bit kaleidoscopic. But we soon arrived at a straightforward story.
In the beginning, we show an empty space in the studio, waiting for the work to start. We show the tools, the utensils she needs to create her artwork. Then we go into the process of imagining how this artwork is being created. We watch Angela preparing the show, and then finally we visit the Villa, inviting the potential viewer to see the show.
Li Zhenhua: Angela, how was it for you to work together with Michael for the film?
Angela Lyn: The first time I met Michael was in Lugano at a conference about art and the city of Lugano, the future or the potential role that Ticino might play in the Swiss art scene. Lorenzo Rudolph, the former director of Art Basel, and his wife Maria-Elena were involved in organizing the conference. Michael was one of four invited speakers. He impressed me because he was the only one who talked about the history of Ticino as a fertile place where people with rich cultural or political backgrounds have been able to find refuge. Soil where they could flourish and find an element of individual freedom. I myself have this connection to the soil and geography of the area. I was relieved to hear somebody speak about Ticino from this perspective. The rest of the discussion proposed turning Lugano into a baby-size art mecca, following the spirit of London, Paris, New York and Rome, due to its strategic spot on the map between north and south. That was at a time when there was still a lot of foreign money in Lugano. I was glad to hear Michael’s insights on the intrinsic history of what Ticino has to offer as a creative space. At the end of the conference, I was lucky to be introduced to Michael.